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Air Bud

Released: 1997

Genre: Kids & Family

Runtime: 1 hr 30 min

MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Charles Martin Smith

Starring: Michael Jeter, Kevin Zeger, Wendy Makkena, Bill Cobbs, Eric Christmas, Nicola Cavendish, Brendan Fletcher Norman Browning, Stephen E. Miller, Bud the Dog

A 12-year-old boy, finds himself in a new city with no friends, he's too shy to try out for the basketball team. However, while practicing, he meets Buddy, a runaway golden retriever, who surprises him with his ability to score baskets. Josh and Buddy eventually make the school team.

The film has a charm and a presence that is immediate.

Review by: SteveRhodes

Added: 8 years ago

You're a twelve-year-old boy with a big problem. Your mom's going to be home shortly, and you've got this enormous, stray dog in the bathroom that looks like it's been living in garbage and smells like dirty socks. Your challenge is to coax it into the bathtub. With the dog cleaned up, maybe your mom will break her rules and let you keep it.

Although the dog weighs as much as you do, you engage in a wrestling match with it. You lose. Finally, you resort to subterfuge. You know that he loves basketball as much as you so you throw a basketball into the tub. When the dog lands on the ball, you jump on him and scrub like crazy.

Then there is the drying conundrum. The dog is a hyperactive wet mop that resists sitting still for more than a few seconds. Solution? The leaf blower from the garage.

All of this notwithstanding, AIR BUD, Disney's latest live action film is not a comedy, which is not to say that it isn't funny. As the bath sequence, set uproariously to "Splish, splash, I was takin' a bath," amply demonstrates, the picture can be quite humorous. Moreover, the film's marketing ("He sits. He stays. He shoots. He scores.") positions the film firmly in the comedic camp. The part of AIR BUD, however, that works best is the older Disney theme, popularized in the OLD YELLER tragedy, of a boy and his love for a newfound dog.

Cast almost exclusively with relatively unknown actors, the film has a charm and a presence that is immediate. Kevin Zegers plays the lead, Josh Framm, as a lost kid. Unlike most kids' shows where "lost" is synonymous with cynical and angry, Josh is a good kid who has had his underpinnings removed. His dad had died the year before, and his mom, played sweetly by Wendy Makkena, has now moved him to a new town where he doesn't know anyone. Although he loved playing basketball with his dad, Josh has become despondent.

In a parallel story, a mean clown -- are there any others in the movies today? -- loses his trick dog on the way to dumping him in the pound. Michael Jeter plays Norm Snively, the clown, as both vicious and stupid. If his entire part of the story had been either removed or at least significantly rewritten, the picture would have improved enormously.

The other theme to the plot has to do with that standard formula of sports films, the team who wants to win the championship. The players on this team make the MIGHTY DUCKS look like pros. Never is their ascendancy to the state championship finals credible, but the movie frequently ignores the drive to win the big game anyway, which in itself is pleasantly unusual. Equally surprising is that the credits tell us that "no special visual effects were used in the basketball sequences."

The most touching scenes are set outdoors. Mike Southon's cinematography, Elizabeth Wilcox's sets, and Brahm Wenger's dreamy music give a cold but hopeful beauty to these scenes. The best are set at an abandoned schoolyard with a derelict basketball court next to it. It is there among the richly colored autumn leaves that Josh meets Buddy, the trick dog, and learns of his amazing ability to shoot baskets. The handsome yellow dog is perfectly chosen. He has an infectiously happy smile and a huge tongue that seems forever like it wants to lick someone. The bond between Josh and Buddy is genuine without ever being staged for cheap sentimentality.

A typical coach ("If you can win on the courts, you can win at life") recruits Josh to be what is derided as the team's "water boy," but Josh goes on to become a player. The coach is fired for cruelty to his players and is replaced by old NBA player named Arthur Chaney. Chaney, who is played with a reserved charisma by Bill Cobbs, preaches teamwork over everything else. "If you're just out there for yourself, you'll lose," he cautions.

When Buddy crashes a basketball game, he becomes an instant hero. As Principal Pepper, played too giddily by Nicola Cavendish, puts it, Buddy is "a basketball-playing dog, a regular Michael 'Woof' Jordan."

Easily the best visual in the film has Buddy with four custom-made basketball shoes in the big game, playing for his first time on the team. And as shown in the trailers, this sequence is the show's funniest. When the opposition coach complains, the referee consults the rule book and declares, "Ain't no rule says a dog can't play basketball." Later the referee asks Coach Chaney, "Does he dribble?" "No, but he might drool a little," replies the coach.

AIR BUD runs about 1:30. It is rated PG for mayhem and would be fine for all ages. My son Jeffrey, age 8, loved it. He rated it "excellent," and claimed it would be on his top ten of the year list and maybe number one. I recommend the show to you and your whole family and give it ** 1/2.